SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

March 2, 2013

Need Mercury in brain? use Kohl

Tot’s eyeliner found to be toxic

By Misti Crane THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS PUBLIC HEALTH    Hashmi Surma eyeliner containing kohl is 62 percent lead, health officials say. Elevated lead levels were found in a toddler who wore the makeup.

The eyeliner a Columbus family applied to a 1-year-old boy’s eyes as part of a cultural tradition contained dangerous amounts of lead, prompting local and state officials to warn against its use yesterday.

The makeup, which is not legal for sale in the United States, is called Hashmi Surma Kohl Eyeliner, and anybody who has any should throw it away, said Columbus Public Health spokesman Jose Rodriguez.

A sample his department collected from the boy’s family contained 62 percent lead. Lead can cause lasting brain damage and is especially toxic in small children.

Following the city’s discovery, the state’s agriculture and health departments, which jointly oversee cosmetic safety, issued an alert yesterday saying that makeup containing the ingredients surma, kohl or kajal presents a health hazard.

The boy’s family originally told Columbus Public Health that they bought the eyeliner at a local store. After health officials found none at that business, the family said they might have purchased it in Michigan, Rodriguez said.

The boy has no symptoms of lead poisoning and does not need treatment, said Dr. Mysheika Williams Roberts, the city’s medical director. She said his pediatrician caught his elevated blood-lead level during a routine screening.

A city nurse who subsequently visited his family started looking for another explanation when she realized the boy lived in a newer home and was not exposed to lead-based paint, Roberts said.

“A clever clinician was just asking the right questions and we found out that this child had been wearing eye makeup that contained a very, very high level of lead,” Rodriguez said.

Roberts said some of the heavy metal could be absorbed through the eye, but the boy likely ingested some after touching his eyes, contributing to his high lead levels.

In parts of the world, especially in India, parents apply kohl to children’s eyes. Historically, many believed that the makeup provided relief from the glare of the sun, or strengthened a child’s eyesight. Some thought it would ward off bad luck.

Anybody using the Hashmi Surma product regularly should consider lead testing, Roberts said.

Roberts said some people bring small amounts of the banned products back after foreign travel. There also are websites that advertise mail-order sales. Large shipments for retail sales should not come into this country, she said.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is trying to nail down the source of the product, but that’s been difficult because the family is unsure of its origin, said spokeswoman Ashley McDonald.

Other states, including Illinois and New York, have issued warnings about this product, as has the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which did not respond to a request for an interview yesterday.

The FDA is working to make sure the products aren’t coming into the United States and the state will monitor for them as well, McDonald said. mcrane@dispatch.com

@MistiCrane

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